Motorola and IBM Reveal PowerPC Plans

As Apple, IBM, and Motorola deal with the fallout from Apple's recent downgrade of its Power Mac G4 systems (see " A Downgrade for the G4 " in this section), the companies are already making plans for a new generation of PowerPC processors that will blaze at speeds of up to 2GHz.

Motorola revealed its strategy for future PowerPC processor development during October's Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California. The company says it is currently testing PowerPC G4 processors with AltiVec technology running at up to 700MHz. Eventually, Motorola says, the G4 design will hit speeds of up to 1GHz.

Waiting in the wings is the PowerPC G5, a 64-bit chip that will also support 32-bit processing to ensure compatibility with current applications. The G5, likely to be available in one to two years at speeds of up to 2GHz, will feature an extensible architecture, making it easier to develop specialized versions of the chip. Motorola says it will also offer a G6 processor, but has given no details on planned features.

Motorola plans to offer G3, G4, and G5 processors concurrently. In addition to developing the chips for Apple's Power Macs, Motorola will also target the growing market for embedded processors, which are used in a wide range of electronic devices.

Damage Control

While Motorola was busy laying out its processor road map, the company found itself performing damage control when Apple cited a shortage of 500MHz G4 processors as the main culprit behind the recent downgrade of its Power Mac G4 systems. In September, Apple predicted lower earnings due to an unexpected shortage of Motorola's G4 processors. Motorola issued a statement that pointed the finger back toward Cupertino, asserting that Motorola had regularly kept Apple apprised of G4 availability.

A month later, after Apple downgraded its systems and brought on IBM as an alternative supplier of G4 processors, Motorola appeared to eat some crow. In a terse statement released to the press, the company said, "Motorola continues to ramp G4 production to a higher volume each week and we are steadfastly committed to meeting our production goals for Apple Computer, and for all of our customers using this exciting new product. We are disappointed that we have not been able to meet all of Apple's demands to date, and are working diligently to rapidly remedy the shortfall. As we have said before, this is a temporary situation."

Big Blue

Meanwhile, IBM has its own plans for the PowerPC architecture. Although Motorola and IBM have both contributed to the PowerPC design, each is free to develop its own chip flavors, which is why IBM only recently signed on to manufacture G4 chips with Motorola's AltiVec technology. IBM will begin supplying the chips in the first half of 2000.

IBM manufactures its G3?and now its G4?chips with copper wiring instead of the aluminum used in Motorola's G3 and Intel's Pentium. Motorola has licensed IBM's copper technology for use in the G4 and will apparently employ copper in its future chip designs. Copper-based chips have the potential to run faster than equivalent aluminum-based chips, with less power consumption and heat emission. (Some of Apple's blue-and-white Power Mac G3 systems include copper-based chips from IBM, while others use Motorola's aluminum-based chips, but there's no performance difference because the chips all follow the same technical specifications.)

IBM won't discuss its development plans publicly, but sources close to the company told MacCentral that Big Blue still sees potential in the G3 processor and plans to offer versions running at up to 800MHz. These chips could find their way into future laptops; the current G4 design is too power hungry for use in portables, and Motorola has not said whether it plans to develop a low-power version of the processor. IBM sources also told MacCentral that the company is developing a low-cost version of the G3 that will sell for less than $100 in production quantities.

Although there's no telling when the new chips will find their way into Apple's Power Mac systems, Apple generally offers a 100MHz speed bump every six months or so, assuming the processors are available in sufficient quantities.

January 2000 page: 25

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